Mistrial declared in trial of Ramon Villa
EAGLE — A bizarre scene played out at the Eagle County Justice Center on Monday, as Judge Frederick Gannett declared a mistrial in the trial of Ramon Villa, one of four men accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Silverthorne on St. Patrick’s Day 2016.
Early on Monday morning Gannett asked Villa, along with attorneys on both sides of the aisle, to convene in his chambers. After a brief conversation, the parties returned to the courtroom where Gannett formally declared a mistrial.
According to Deputy District Attorney Lisa Hunt, the decision was made after a page of notes including details from the trial of Justin Cayce Erwin — another of the accused — was discovered in a notebook being used by one of the jurors in the Villa trial. The notes detailed information about the previous trial, and a mistrial was declared to eschew fears that the notes could prejudice Villa’s jury in some capacity.
As detailed by Gannett early in the trial, jurors are given notepads for their personal use while receiving testimony, and are locked away in a secured jury room over night. After the trial, the notes are supposed to be destroyed. It’s unclear how a page was left in the notebook.
Regardless, a feeling of shock cascaded around the courtroom as the mistrial was announced, effectively negating three days worth of testimony and prolonging the case’s outcome that’s been more than two years in the making. Hunt and her team spoke to the strange nature of the mistrial, noting they’d never seen one stemming from an incident like this. But they felt it was the right decision.
“I think both parties want to have a fair trial, and the goal is that justice ultimately is met,” said Hunt.
Stacey Shobe and Carolin Whippo, Villa’s defense team, declined to comment on the mistrial.
For the parties involved, Villa’s September trial was meant to serve as a conclusion to the massive legal fallout stemming from the alleged assault in March 2016. But a pair of mistrials has left a final resolution for the case up in the air.
In July, Erwin was exonerated on 11 of 20 charges following a 10-day trial, but Judge John McMullen declared a mistrial on the other nine charges after the jury reached a stalemate. Another trial is expected to take place in the Erwin case to rule on the unresolved counts, but no date has been set. In August, Erwin agreed to extend the speedy trial period an additional 90 days after his defense council moved out of the area. He’s set to return to court in Eagle County on Sept. 14 to determine a new trial date.
The trial of Ramon Villa will now have to be reset as well. Attorneys in the case are expected to speak during a teleconference on Friday to try and set a new trial date. At this time it’s unclear if the trial will take place in Eagle County, Summit County or somewhere else. Initially the trials for both Erwin and Villa were moved to Eagle County due to concerns of prolific media exposure surrounding the incident. Those concerns have seemingly seeped into Eagle as well, as Judge Gannett had to repeatedly warn jurors to avoid stories about the trial, and admonished several jurors during the voir dire process for seeking out information on the case.
As Villa and Erwin await their subsequent trials, two other cases stemming from the alleged assault have already been adjudicated. Paul Garvin was convicted of felony sexual assault in Oct. 2016, and was sentenced to 16-years to life in prison in March. Michael Gelber, who testified on behalf of the prosecution in Villa’s trial, pleaded guilty to a split-plea in June, receiving a deferred sentence on a felony charge and two misdemeanor convictions.